Friday, July 02, 2010

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Obama's Mid-East Policy Boils Down To 3 Assumptions--All Of Them Wrong

Posted: 02 Jul 2010 09:08 AM PDT

Tablet Magazine has a symposium of foreign policy experts on Obama's Middle East policy. One of them, Elliott Abrams, writes in part:

The Obama Administration appears to have three basic premises about the Middle East. The first is that the key issue in the entire Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second is that it is a territorial conflict that can be resolved in essence by Israeli concessions. The third is that the central function of the United States is to serve as the PLO's lawyer to broker those concessions so that an agreement can be signed. I think these premises are all wrong.

I think we can agree that there is nothing in Obama's conduct of his Mideast policy that would contradict any of the 3 premises that Abrams ascribes to him.

Now of course, there is nothing novel in assuming that the conflict is at the center of everything that goes on in the Middle East. The problem is that considering the Israel-Palestinian conflict in particular to be the key to peace in the Middle East means conveniently forgetting that the long history of Arabs killing Arabs predates the reestablishment of the State of Israel.

At the end of his book The Arabs In History, Bernard Lewis provides a time line (p. 179) of the early history of Islam:

632. Death of Muhammad

656. Murder of 'Uthman--beginning of first civil war in Islam.

657-59. Battle of Siffin

661. Murder of 'Ali--beginning of Umayyad dynasty.

680. Massacre of Husain and 'Alids at Karbala.

683-90. Second civil war

685-87. Revolt of Mukhtar in Iraq--beginning of extremist Shi'a.

The fact is that historically, Arabs have not needed Israel as a pretext for killing each other--and that fact has not changed over the centuries. Raphael Patai, in an updated chapter in his book The Arab Mind has a list of Arab conflicts--none of which involve Israel--just during the 13 years from 1970 to 1983:

1. Intermittent disputes involving border warfare and assassinations between South Yemen on the one hand, and North Yemen and Saudi Arabia, on the other since the early 1970's. A brief but fierce border war between the two Yemens took place as recently as March, 1979.

2. A major and bloody, albeit brief, conflict between Jordan and Palestinian guerrillas in 1970, complicated by Syrian intervention.

3. Fighting between the Kurds and the Iraqis, which lasted several years.

4. A bloody conflict between Northern and Southern Sudan, 1956-1972.

5. Clashes between South Yemen and Oman, linked to the Dhofar rebellion, 1972-1976.

6. A tripartite conflict between Algeria on the one hand and Morocco and Mauritania, on the other, over the control of the former Spanish Sahara, beginning in 1976 and subsequently transformed into guerrilla warfare against Morocco by the Polisario, the freedom fighters of the Western Sahara, supported by Algeria and Libya, which was still in progress in 1982.

7. Intermittent hostility, and actual border fighting, including air attacks, between Egypt and Libya in 1977.

8. The Lebanese civil war, which began in 1975, involving two outside parties, Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization, still unresolved in early 1982.

9. The invasion of Chad by Libya in 1980.

10. The war between Iraq and Iran, which began in the fall of 1980, in which Iraq is supported by Jordan and Iran by Syria, making it in effect, an inter-Arab conflict. It was still in progress in early 1982.

11. In February, 1982, a conflict flared up between the Syrian government and Muslim fundamentalists in the Syrian city of Hama, in which several thousands were killed and major parts of Hama were destroyed. [p.357-358]

For an even more up-to-date list of Islamist violence, there is, which has a list (as of the writing of this post) of 15,569 Islamist attacks around the world since 9/11. Among the places where these terrorist attacks have taken place include:

India and the Sudan and Algeria and Afghanistan and New York and Pakistan and Israel and Russia and Chechnya and the Philippines and Indonesia and Nigeria and England and Thailand and Spain and Egypt and Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia and Ingushetia and Dagestan and Turkey and Morocco and Yemen and Lebanon and France and Uzbekistan and Gaza and Tunisia and Kosovo and Bosnia and Mauritania and Kenya and Eritrea and Syria and Somalia and California and Kuwait and Virginia and Ethiopia and Iran and Jordan and United Arab Emirates and Louisiana and Texas and Tanzania and Germany and Australia and Pennsylvania and Belgium and Denmark and East Timor and Qatar and Maryland and Tajikistan and the Netherlands and Scotland and Chad and Canada and China and Nepal and the Maldives and Argentina and Mali and Angola and the Ukraine...

Would all this really come to an end by creating a second Palestinian state?

And is that all that it will take--creating a state? On the one side is the goal of Hamas, as described in Article 7 of their Charter:

the Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah's promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!

That is more than just a matter of territorial ambition--and the fact is that the Fatah Constitution is no different. In fact, in October 2007 Representative Roy Blount introduced Resolution 758:

Urging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also Chairman of his Fatah party, to officially abrogate the 10 articles in the Fatah Constitution that call for Israel's destruction and terrorism against Israel, oppose any political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and label Zionism as racism.

...Whereas the 10 articles in the Fatah Constitution opposing Israel and Zionism are the following:

(1) `Article (4): The Palestinian struggle is part and parcel of the world-wide struggle against Zionism, colonialism and international imperialism.';

(2) `Article (7): The Zionist Movement is racial, colonial and aggressive in ideology, goals, organization and method.';

(3) `Article (8): The Israeli existence in Palestine is a Zionist invasion with a colonial expansive base, and it is a natural ally to colonialism and international imperialism.';

(4) `Article (12): Complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence.';

(5) `Article (17): Armed public revolution is the inevitable method to liberating Palestine.';

(6) `Article (19): Armed struggle is a strategy and not a tactic, and the Palestinian Arab People's armed revolution is a decisive factor in the liberation fight and in uprooting the Zionist existence, and this struggle will not cease unless the Zionist state is demolished and Palestine is completely liberated.';

(7) `Article (22): Opposing any political solution offered as an alternative to demolishing the Zionist occupation in Palestine, as well as any project intended to liquidate the Palestinian case or impose any international mandate on its people.';

(8) `Article (23): Maintaining relations with Arab countries . . . with the provision that the armed struggle is not negatively affected.';

(9) `Article (24): Maintaining relations with all liberal forces supporting our just struggle in order to resist together Zionism and imperialism.'; and

(10) `Article (25): Convincing concerned countries in the world to prevent Jewish immigration to Palestine as a method of solving the problem.'

Resolution 758 went nowhere, and the Fatah has not been revised. The Fatah claim that Zionism is an international phenomenon and that it must be eradicated culturally go beyond a mere territorial conflict involving the creation of a Palestinian state. It explains the persistent persecutions of Jews by Muslims when that very same area was under Islamic rule. For that matter, you can skim through Andrew Bostom's The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism and get an idea of the pervasive anti-Semitism and persecution of Jews--and all non-Muslims--throughout the history of Islam. To claim that the conflict is merely a dispute over land requires ignoring a lot of history that directly contradicts that view.

Now of course, no one is going to stop Obama from setting up the US as Abbas's personal representative to force unilateral Israeli concessions and manufacture a Palestinian state--something that has never existed in the history of the region. But considering how wrong Obama is on his first 2 premises, the result of pursuing the 3rd premise can only end in disastrous consequences for the region.

Ironically, it is Obama's single-minded attempt to force the creation of a second Palestinian state--to the exclusion of dealing with other threats in the region--that has been responsible for destabilizing the region. The Arab world has seen Obama's failure to deal with Iran and Syria and has begun to take steps to deal with the threat of Iran--steps that do not include the US or its interests.

by Daled Amos

Waiting for thomas

Posted: 02 Jul 2010 03:54 AM PDT

Writing about Thomas Friedman's most recent column on "Fayyadism," Barry Rubin observes:

His gimmick this week is, "The Real Palestinian Revolution." Now one might call the way Hamas threw Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA) out of the Gaza Strip and turned that territory into a radical Islamist state is a real Palestinian revolution. Or one might say that a real Palestinian revolution would take place when Fatah, the PA, and Palestinian public opinion really changed toward accepting a two-state solution.

Instead, his "real revolution" is merely a matter of image, as in the following paragraph:

"It is a revolution based on building Palestinian capacity and institutions not just resisting Israeli occupation, on the theory that if the Palestinians can build a real economy, a professional security force and an effective, transparent government bureaucracy it will eventually become impossible for Israel to deny the Palestinians a state in the West Bank and Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem....It is the only hope left, though, for a two-state solution, so it needs to be quietly supported."

By the way, it isn't clear that anything is really changing at all but rather that the whole big state-building campaign is purely a public relations campaign as this Carnegie report suggests.

It would be a good thing, of course, if the PA did succeed in accomplishing these goals. Yet a number of cogent questions can be raised about Friedman's model. Let's suppose the PA failed to do these things. We can check in a year or two from now to assess what has happened. Most likely, nothing much would have changed. Perhaps the PA's modest progress to date would have collapsed in a new round of extremism and violence.

So what if the PA failed? Would Friedman and the conventional wisdom in Washington switch to saying that Israel had no real alternative for peace and thus U.S. policy should back Israel? Of course not, they would merely find some new gimmick.

We don't have to wait that long. The infamous "Red Team" article was as much an attack on Fayyadism as on Israel.

In supporting the creation of a unified Palestinian security service, CENTCOM's Red Team distances itself from the U.S. effort to provide training to the Fatah-controlled security forces in the West Bank, which began during George W. Bush's administration. While that effort, currently headed by Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, is not mentioned specifically in the report, the Red Team makes it clear that it believes that such initiatives will fail unless the Israelis and Palestinians negotiate an end to the conflict. While Dayton and the administration are focused on building a "National Security Force" in the West Bank that excludes Hamas, and jails its members, the focus of Palestinians is elsewhere. "But all Palestinians are watching the clashes in East Jerusalem, which continue to feed into the Palestinians perception the Israelis are incapable of negotiating in good faith," according to the report.

CENTCOM's implicit criticism of Dayton is not a surprise: the general's program is controversial among some senior military officers, who question an effort that, in Palestinian perceptions, makes the U.S. a partner in the Israeli occupation. Dayton is also criticized in military circles for making a May 2009 speech before the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy (which he described as "the foremost think tank on Middle East issues, not only in Washington, but in the world"). In the speech (pdf), he said that the reason a high-ranking general was appointed as security coordinator was because he "would be trusted and respected by the Israelis." The statement was not universally welcomed at the Pentagon, where one officer shook his head. "You would have thought Dayton's primary mission would be to win the respect and trust of the Palestinians," he told me.

So if Friedman is as committed to Fayyadism as he claims to be shouldn't he be just as emphatic in attacking someone like Mark Perry - who wishes to strengthen Hamas at the expense of Fatah - as he is in attacking right wing Jews and settlers (who, at least, were correct about Arafat)?

Of course expecting intellectual honesty from Thomas Friedman is likely to be a vain enterprise.

Deathly hallows trailer

Posted: 02 Jul 2010 01:27 AM PDT

I didn't see Dobby.

They who must not be named

Posted: 02 Jul 2010 01:25 AM PDT

Today Charles Krauthammer blasts the administration for its refusal to state the obvious in Terror -- and candor in describing the Islamist ideology behind it

Instead, President Obama's National Security Strategy insists on calling the enemy -- how else do you define those seeking your destruction? -- "a loose network of violent extremists." But this is utterly meaningless. This is not an anger-management therapy group gone rogue. These are people professing a powerful ideology rooted in a radical interpretation of Islam, in whose name they propagandize, proselytize, terrorize and kill.

Why is this important? Because the first rule of war is to know your enemy. If you don't, you wander into intellectual cul-de-sacs and ignore the real causes that might allow you to prevent recurrences.

And it's not just the adminsitration. Currently there is a fad of foreign policy "experts" telling us that if we only meet the terrorists half way, why, they'll embrace us with open arms.

It reminds me of Michael Kelly's column from Sept 12, 2001 originally titled When innocents are the enemy:

If it is morally acceptable to murder, in the name of a necessary blow for freedom, a woman on a Tel Aviv street, or to blow up a disco full of teenagers, or to bomb a family restaurant -- then it must be morally acceptable to drive two jetliners into a place where 50,000 people work. In moral logic, what is the difference? If the murder of innocent people is for whatever reason excusable, it is excusable; if it is legitimate, it is legitimate. If acceptable on a small scale, so too on a grand.

Whether it is this administration's failure to call a terrorist a terrorist or those who excuse Palestinian terrorism (we don't necessarily approve of the methods, but we understand their grievance), they're guided by a similar problem. They see the terrorists as being just like themselves.

Charles Krauthammer wrote in 1983:

Other messages from exotic cultures are never received at all. The more virulent pronouncements of Third World countries are dismissed as mere rhetoric. The more alien the sentiment, the less seriously it is taken. Diplomatic fiascoes follow, like Secretary Shultz's recent humiliation in Damascus. He persisted in going there despite the fact that President Assad had made it utterly plain that he rejected efforts by the U.S. (the "permanent enemy") to obtain withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. Or consider the chronic American frustration with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis consistently declare their refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Middle East, a position so at variance with the Western view that it is simply discounted. Thus successive American Governments continue to count on Saudi support for U.S. peace plans, only to be rudely let down. When the Saudis finally make it unmistakably clear that they will support neither Camp David nor the Reagan plan nor the Lebanon accord, the U.S. reacts with consternation. It might have spared itself the surprise if it had not in the first place imagined that underneath those kaffiyehs are folks just like us, sharing our aims and views.

Or as Lee Smith explained it more recently:

We also learned that some Western reporters and analysts have such a deeply personal stake in their desire to understand "the other" that any suggestion that groups like Hezbollah might actually be motivated by a dangerous political ideology that has nothing in common with secular democratic norms is quite literally unbearable. One night at dinner, one of our hosts, an anti-Hezbollah Shia political activist, was criticizing the Party of God when a member of our delegation became anxious and annoyed. A researcher who has interviewed the leadership of other Islamist parties in the region, she snapped at our host and asked if he had "ever actually met someone from Hezbollah." "Why yes," replied the host, laughing. "I live in a Hezbollah neighborhood and have family members in Hezbollah, even Hezbollah martyrs." Ideally, the messenger's credentials would have at least persuaded her to listen to the message; instead, she got up and walked away from the table.

While the researcher in question was hardly displaying a devotion to open-minded inquiry, her behavior was founded on an undeniable truth: Talking to your enemy can be risky business. The greatest danger in talking is the possibility that you will be controlled by the other side's message; or, if he's yet more skillful, that your adversary will manage your perceptions to his advantage.

There are those who see our enemies as just like us, ready to compromise if we just are nice enough. They are motivated by the solipsism that Krauthammer describes. Unfortunately, there's a mistaken premise here:

There were some new features, including the cigarette lighter made in China and sold on the West Bank that shows the World Trade Center on fire when clicked. There is massive documentation on the involvement of Hamas and Hizballah in terrorism, antisemitism, anti-American views, and would-be genocide. One can see videos of kids in the Hamas schools carrying out military exercises. Watch this and then ask whether Hamas is intending to produce a generation of moderates.

Revolutionary Islamism and terrorism, hatred for the United States and the desire to wipe out Israel (and Jews generally) are not some minor side issues for these groups but are absolutely central to their existence. It is amazing to think of these naïve people who think they are going to talk revolutionary Islamists into being moderates, or buy them off with money (there's that idea of prosperity solving all problems again) or concessions.

Reaching out to meet someone halfway will only work if the other person is willing to go to meet you. If they're only seeking advantage from you, meeting them on their own terms is a recipe for disaster.

Crossposted on Yourish.

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